Victor Davis Hanson

Third, it does no good for Beltway technocrats to explain how deficits are good at "stimulating" the economy, or why they do not really have to be paid back. Voters know that such gibberish does not apply to their own mortgages and credit card bills.

Voters feel relieved when they can pay off debt and become chronically depressed when they cannot. When the government last balanced the budget in 2000 under the Clinton administration and the Republican Congress, the country collectively experienced as much of a psychological high as it is now collectively experiencing humiliation over being ridiculed as a spendthrift borrower.

So national reputation and sense of self also matter. Americans are tired of hearing about inevitable Chinese ascendency and American decline. They know China is still in many ways a repressive developing country facing huge political, environmental and demographic challenges. But Americans also concede that China's huge budget and trade surpluses result in trillions of dollars in cash reserves -- and hence global clout, world respect and a promising future that seems not likewise true of spend now/pay later America.

Fourth, there is real fear that something terrible will soon come from this unsustainable level of spending. Interest rates are at historic lows. But if they should rise, just servicing the current debt would cost even more hundreds of billions in borrowed dollars. Soon, we will face a bleak choice of either slashing national defense or Social Security -- or both -- just when the nation is graying and the world is becoming more dangerous than ever. Will the Chinese lend us the money to deploy an aircraft carrier off their coast, or finance new American health-care entitlements that they cannot afford for 400 million of their own people?

In this upcoming election, all the old political pluses -- years of incumbency, entrenched seniority and pork-barrel earmarks -- are proving to be liabilities. Instead, the more public officials admit to being in control when trillions of dollars were run up, the more Americans want them gone.

We are humiliated by what we owe. If we cannot pay it back, will at least want political payback.

It's that simple this year.


Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.